Witch Hunting Persists in India Despite Efforts to Eradicate the Practice

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In a shocking incident in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand in 2021, a 26-year-old woman named Durga Mahato fell victim to a brutal attack driven by accusations of witchcraft. The assault, lasting nearly two hours, was carried out by her parents, uncle, and a prominent man in the village who had made unwanted sexual advances towards her. The attackers labeled her a witch and subjected her to a vicious beating before leaving her unconscious next to a temple.

This incident highlights the persistent problem of witch hunting in India, despite numerous laws and initiatives aimed at eradicating the age-old practice. Traditionally driven by superstition, witch branding has evolved into a tool used to oppress women in various ways. In Durga Mahato’s case, it was a means to retaliate against her refusal of sexual advances. Witchcraft accusations are often employed to seize land, settle personal scores, or justify acts of violence.

India has made efforts to address the issue, with some states enacting laws against witch hunting and implementing programs to raise awareness. Jharkhand, in particular, has established Project Garima, deploying “witch-hunting prevention campaign teams” and creating village-level protection committees to support survivors of violence. However, the effectiveness of these measures is limited due to weak law enforcement and deeply entrenched beliefs.

The consequences of being branded a witch extend beyond physical assault. Victims like Durga Mahato face social ostracization, being barred from communal resources such as water sources and subjected to isolation within their communities. They are blamed for various misfortunes, ranging from the death of animals to illnesses. The psychological and emotional toll on these women is immense, as they endure pain and endure a loss of dignity.

While the Indian government set 2023 as the target year to eradicate witch hunting, officials have now pushed back the goal by at least three years. The task of changing deep-rooted beliefs and combating superstition remains challenging. However, there are individuals like Chhutni Mahato, a victim turned activist, who work tirelessly to assist and support those affected by witch hunting. Through her efforts, she has helped over 150 women in Jharkhand and continues to demand action from authorities.

The case of Dukhu Majhi further highlights the arbitrary nature of witchcraft accusations. Ms. Majhi was targeted simply because she did not conform to societal expectations of a “normal woman.” Accused of being a witch, she faced harassment and had to flee her home with her children. Despite the local police downplaying the severity of her case, she sought refuge elsewhere and continues to face challenges in rebuilding her life.

The persistence of witch hunting in India underscores the need for sustained efforts to combat this deep-rooted problem. It requires comprehensive measures, including strengthened law enforcement, community education, and support systems for victims. By addressing the underlying causes and challenging superstitious beliefs, India can strive towards a society that respects the dignity and rights of all individuals, regardless of gender.